NEW ORLEANS - It wasn't your typical convention display: a color-coded body-in-white cutaway of the Ford F-150 pickup that looked like an oversized Fisher-Price toy.
But Ford Motor Co. was using the toy store approach to make a serious point to dealers: The economics of an aluminum truck - both the repair costs for the customer and the body shop operations for the dealer - make sense.
"We've made a lot of really significant changes for repairability," Jim Farley, Ford global vice president of marketing, sales, service and Lincoln, said at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here. "They will help save a lot of labor costs."
For those with an engineering bent, the display provided a fascinating first look at how construction and repair of the nation's top-selling vehicle will change with the aluminum redesign.
Take apron tubes for example.
A pickup has two of them, one on each side of the engine compartment. The tube runs from the A-pillar to the radiator support frame and helps support the front fenders.
If the tube is damaged on the current
F-150, technicians have to remove the instrument panel to get the tube out - a job that takes six to seven hours, said Gerry Bonanni, a senior body engineer at Ford. That's because the end of the tube wraps around the bottom of the A-pillar and is welded to the body behind the instrument panel.
In the redesigned truck, the apron tube is riveted to the bottom of the A-pillar and does not wrap around the bottom. So a technician can remove it simply by pulling the rivets.
Ford took a similar approach with the floor pan. If the current truck is damaged, the technician might have to replace the entire floor structure, said Bonanni. With the new truck, technicians can remove individual sections.
"So the advantage to the technician and body shop is they have repair options they would not have had," he said.
With all the unknowns surrounding the aluminum F-150, Ford wanted to reassure dealers as quickly as possible. And the
NADA convention, just two weeks after the truck debuted at the Detroit auto show, provided the chance.
The message to the 20 percent of Ford dealers who have body shops: Ford's modular design will simplify work, saving repair technicians many hours.